Marvel has been dipping its toes into the horror genre a lot in recent years, first announcing a Blade reboot, then hiring Evil Dead legend Sam Raimi to direct the horror-tinged Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But with the release of Werewolf by Night, a Marvel Studios Special Presentation biting into Disney+ on October 7th, the studio will take its first true plunge into horror’s bloody waters.
In Werewolf by Night, on a dark and sombre night, a secret cabal of monster hunters emerge from the shadows and gather at the foreboding Bloodstone temple following the death of their leader. In a strange and macabre memorial to the leader’s life, the attendees are thrust into a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic—a hunt that will ultimately bring them face to face with a dangerous monster.
Following an advanced screening of Werewolf by Night at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, we caught up with director and composer Michael Giacchino to talk monster movies, sinister scores, and the humanity at the heart of Marvel’s hairy horror outing.
SCREAM: Werewolf by Night is a treat for both comic book and classic horror fans. How did you approach making the special in a way that would speak to and feel authentic for both audiences?
MICHAEL GIACCHINO: I grew up loving and worshipping old horror movies—especially old horror monster movies—but I also loved comic books. In terms of the comics, I thought, well, if we make sure that the characters ring true, that will satisfy that element. And with the visual element, you have a lot of license, because there are a lot of different ways to bring something to life. It felt like, to me, the two realms would come together perfectly and feel like one.
It’s just a huge love letter to everything that I worshipped as a kid: Universal films, Hammer films, Japanese monster movies—all these crazy things that I watched growing up, including a lot of myths like Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, and shows like In Search of… All of those things were just in my head all the time. I felt like this was a way for me to get it out of my head, put it on the screen, and share it with everyone.
With Werewolf by Night releasing on Disney+, are you hopeful that it will introduce a new generation of kids to the classic monster movies that might not have been on their radar otherwise?
Yes, for sure. If a family watches this together, my hope is that some of the people in that family that know about those movies will go, “You know what? If you liked that, let’s watch this. Let me show you Bride of Frankenstein because that’s another great.” I do hope it allows kids to discover a whole area of films that they didn’t know about.
I raised my kids on these movies. I raised them on a lot of the older things before introducing them to anything new so that there was a path there. And I think there’s fun in going backwards as well.
Even though it is family-friendly, Werewolf by Night is a little bit bloodier than the typical Marvel film. Do you feel that being able to present it in black and white allowed you to get away with a little more?
I think that certainly didn’t hurt us, but there was never a mandate one way or the other, either. “Don’t be this violent” was never something that was said, and everything I asked for and wanted to do, we just did.
Of course, in the back of my head, I’m thinking, “Is there going to come a day when suddenly someone’s gonna say, ‘What are you doing? You can’t do this—this is Disney+!’” I thought, “Well, let’s just keep pushing and see what happens!” And honestly, we were never asked to take anything out. I do think the black and white had a lot to do with that though.
Was it a surprise that people were so receptive to doing a black-and-white film in 2022?
It was, but I think that the subject matter really worked in our favour. The type of film that I wanted to make and what I wanted to do stylistically really helped us push into that era.
We did film it in colour, but I also had a black-and-white monitor on set with me so I could see what that looked like. My director of photography, Zoë White, was incredible, and she and I both secretly desperately wanted this to be black and white, so everything we did lighting-wise was pointing in that direction. We just didn’t know at the time if we were going to be able to do it or not. But when Marvel saw it and Kevin Feige watched it, he was like, “Oh, this has to be in black and white!” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah it does!”
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your fantastic score, which feels like a real spiritual successor to the monster movies of the 30s and 40s. Were there any films in particular that served as a touchpoint when you were composing?
It was really an amalgam of all of them. I didn’t want to go full-on 1930s stylistically, but I did want to hint a bit. I wanted that feeling there, but I wanted a modern version of what that might be.
It was really just referencing that feeling I had as a kid watching those movies. That goes for how it looks, how it sounds, and how the music is. All of that was trying to capture a feeling of what I loved about watching those kinds of films growing up.
With Werewolf by Night, you open the door to a whole new world of gods and monsters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Are there any other stories that you would love to tell or characters that you would love to see introduced into that universe?
I have a million stories in my head that I would love to explore. There are other characters that are incredibly rich and powerful that are just there waiting to be used.
But up to this point, every moment has been about finishing this. Now I feel like we’re finally at a point where it’s like, “All right, we did that. Now what?” So that will be the next hill to climb for me, and I don’t know what that means yet. I’m waking up and looking around going, “Okay, that’s finished. Now I have to put my energy somewhere else.” We’ll see where that is.
We talked about this being a family-friendly horror film. Would you ever consider doing a full-blown, really scary horror film?
Yeah. I mean, I love those kinds of movies as long as they’re not sadistic. I’m not a fan of straight-up slasher films and gore for gore’s sake. If the character development and the humanity and the empathy are all ignored, then there’s really nothing there for me. I need there to be something there that feels real and truthful, something to care about.
That’s why I like films like those we’ve talked about, but also ones like Poltergeist. At its heart, that film is about getting their daughter back and reuniting the family. All of the other stuff is in service to that.
Every step along the way of making [Werewolf by Night], whatever we did in terms of violence and gore, it had to be in service of our true story, which was baked in humanity and empathy. I wanted to always circle around that because if you’re not, I feel like you’re making something that’s sort of empty. I don’t know what you walk away with from movies like that. For me, it’s always difficult to walk away with anything if you’re not focused on those things.
Werewolf by Night brings a touch of classic horror to Disney+ on October 7th.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)